Let me tell you what happiness means to me. My family makes me happy. Seeing my son smiling at me makes me happy. Eating delicious food makes me happy. Enjoying the sunshine outdoors makes me happy. Even an occasional glass of red wine ( I’m a red wine kind of girl) makes me happy. Some days it feels like happiness comes out of nowhere and covers me in its bubble. And then there are days when I feel so down nothing seems to make me happy. That made me think about ways to “ignite your happy” so to speak. What food and activities would make us feel happier longer?
“If you want to be happy, be.” – Leo Tolstoy
“Happy Hormones” generally refer to endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. But how do these hormones affect our lives (apart from making us happier, apparently)?
Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers!
They are manufactured in your brain, spinal cord, and many other parts of your body, and are released in response to brain chemicals.
Ways to increase endorphins:
Exercise. High-intensity exercise helps you to cope with chronic pains by activating bodies natural painkillers. Endorphins don’t really help you to feel good, but they help you to feel less bad.
Eat spicy food. Receptors on your tongues react to hot spice by sending signals to your brains similar to pain signals. This triggers the production of endorphins.
Serotonin is a powerful influence over mood, emotions, memory, cravings (especially for carbohydrates), pain sensation, sleep habits, appetite, digestion, and body temperature regulation.
Ways to increase serotonin levels:
Choose positive thoughts. When we choose to think happy thought or focus on what we’re grateful for in the present, our brains seem to produce more serotonin.
Expose yourself to sunlight. When sunlight reaches our skin, your body produces vitamin D which in turn helps produce serotonin. This explains why the outdoors make people happier.
Exercise. High-intensity workouts produce endorphins, whereas serotonin can be increased by following a low impact exercise routine. Serotonin also lingers in our system after exercise.
Consume tryptophan (the essential amino acid). Tryptophan is the essential amino acid that is important for the production of serotonin in the body. It is also key to brain function and has a role in healthy sleep.
Foods, including salmon, poultry, eggs, spinach, and seeds, soy products (tofu, soy milk, and soy sauce), nuts and milk are among those that help boost serotonin naturally.
Dopamine is a “pleasure” hormone and is associated with feelings of euphoria, bliss, motivation, and concentration. It also drives pleasure-seeking behavior.
Ways to increase dopamine:
Set realistic daily or monthly goals. Having specific, measurable and achievable goals will give you extra motivation to work harder. As a result, reaching your goals will boost dopamine production.
Boost dopamine with touch. A therapeutic massage increases dopamine and serotonin and reduces the stress hormone cortisol. All kind of pleasurable touch will increase dopamine, therefore stroking your dog (or cat) can give both you and your pet a boost of dopamine and other feel-good brain chemicals.
Enjoy music. Listening to music can cause the release of dopamine, but you don’t even have to hear music to get your boost of feel-good hormones. Because just the anticipation of listening can make you feel happier.
Physical exercise is one of the best things you can do for your brain. Exercise boosts production of new brain cells, slows down brain cell aging, and improves the flow of nutrients to the brain. At the same time, exercise increases levels of dopamine in your body. Even doing low-impact exercise (like yoga) or taking walks provide benefits.
If you can get your exercise outside, that’s even better. In fact, sunlight can increase your dopamine levels and create vitamin D.
Meditation. Studies show that meditation increases dopamine levels, therefore, improving focus and concentration. Even creative hobbies, including knitting, sewing, drawing, photography, woodworking, and home repair, can become a meditation of sorts. As a result, these activities increase dopamine, fight depression, and protect against brain aging.
Oxytocin is often called the “love hormone”. Apart from that, It’s been called the “hug hormone,” the “cuddle chemical,” the “moral molecule,” the “monogamy molecule,” and the “molecule of connection.
This hormone boosts trust and empathy and reduces stress.
“The higher your oxytocin, the higher your happiness and well-being, at least for women,” says Paul Zak, PhD
Ways to increase oxytocin:
Physical touch is the best way to boost oxytocin level. Falling in love (mmm), having sex (ooh la la) or giving birth (been there, done that) will increase oxytocin levels. At the same time, non-sexual cuddling (I love cuddles), hugging, making eye contact, and even shaking hands gets oxytocin flowing. And, cuddling your pet works too.
Connecting and talking to your friend will significantly increase oxytocin, even if you can only connect through social media.
Physical exercise (surprise, surprise) is another great to ignite your happy.
“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ignite your happy!
You deserve to be happy, truly happy! There should be no obstacles you couldn’t overcome! No mountain too high, no river too wide (I totally quote Moulin Rouge here), because you know ways to ignite your happy!
Finally, I see why sunshine and fresh air affect us so much. The way your loved ones make you so happy, you can barely contain the feeling.
Thanks to all the research I have done, now I can tell with certainty, exercise is your best friend! Not only will you look better (and feel better about looking better), but you will also boost your feel-good hormone levels. It’s a win-win situation if you ask me.
Enjoy your life the way you were meant to. Eat occasional cake and drink an occasional glass of wine, if it will make you happy.
There is so much you can do to help ignite your own happy! You just need to make the first step. Enjoy every moment of every day, because happiness is already inside you.
You are happiness!
“The most important thing is to enjoy your life – to be happy – it’s all that matters.” – Audrey Hepburn